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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
Director: Brad Bird

review by J.C. Hartley

Popping up in 1996, Mission: Impossible was a reboot of the original 1960s spy-fi TV series and cleverly made use of one of the original characters, Jim Phelps, revealing him to be a traitor with pension issues. The film upset most of the original TV cast; actors seemingly being as attached to characters and unable to distinguish fact from fiction as the geekiest fan-boys. It had some great scenes, my son had nightmares about Phelps filming his own stabbing, the fish-tank explosion was pretty good, and Vanessa Redgrave acted everyone off the screen as Max.

Along with Bourne, it looked as if Mission: Impossible might establish a rival franchise to the James Bond films, which largely lost their way in the last two outings for Pierce Brosnan, particularly in the appalling self-referential Die Another Day. The uncertainty about the Bond reboot, largely dispelled by Casino Royale, itself a reaction to the new action values of The Bourne Identity, and the subsequent financial shenanigans at MGM, established that, despite it all, audiences still had time and affection for hi-tech espionage tomfoolery of the kind that the Bond series dutifully doled out every couple of years.

Skyfall, the latest addition to the Bond stable, in the intriguing hands of Sam Mendes, is promising a return to the quirky fun of the original Bonds, with gadgetry, execrable puns and good old British values. I still say they should have hired Clive Owen and set them in the 1950s. The latest Bourne film is without Bourne but drafts in Jeremy Renner (Avengers Assemble's Hawkeye), a man who looks likely to burst into man-sobs at any moment, and he crops up in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol as well.

Simon Pegg, Tom Cruise's new best friend, as Benji, remotely busts Cruise's Ethan Hunt out of a Russian prison along with an intelligence source. The IMF team infiltrate the Kremlin to grab some files identifying 'Cobalt' the latest lunatic to be threatening world peace. Unfortunately, the bad-guys compromise the IMF mission and the Kremlin blows up. The IMF is disavowed by Washington, and Hunt and his team have to work within the Ghost Protocol to identify and stop the villains meanwhile being pursued themselves by the vengeful KGB. And that's all you need to know.

There are some subplots within Hunt's diminished IMF team. Agent Jane is on her own mission of revenge; her boyfriend was killed by Cobalt's agent Sabine, despite the handy IMF app on his mobile identifying her as an assassin. Renner's Brandt seems a bit handy to be a mere analyst, and sure enough it transpires that he was the field agent protecting Hunt's wife when she was murdered by a Serbian hit squad.

There is more nonsense involving those annoying masks, Hunt impersonates a General, and the big ending is very Bond with a missile aimed at San Francisco having to be remotely deactivated. The big set-piece is Cruise's much-publicised climb on the world's tallest building, the Burj Tower in Dubai; this probably looked great on IMAX but it's impact is somewhat diminished on the small screen. Also, he uses sticky gloves; why not go the whole implausible hog and use Diabolik's magnets? Apparently actresses Paula Patton (Jane) and Lea Seydoux (Sabine) were so impressed by the stunt they opted to perform their own fight without doubles, it's inside a hotel room for goodness sake!

The mcguffin: various codes and devices crop up, but the main impetus is villain Hendricks played by Michael Nyqvist, a nuclear strategist who believes that a global war will tidy-up the planet allowing the strong survivors to push the human race on a bit evolution-wise, or something. It is totally unnecessary to know or care what the plot of this film is, and indeed the whole genre now depends on a sequence of international locations and set-pieces, pacing, beats, good-looking faces in dangerous places. It has always been so, at least since 1962 I suppose. Is it too much now to ask for an actual plot?

The mcguffin has become something of a filmic joke, and no - it doesn't matter. We don't even realise a crime has been committed until the final reel of Vertigo but James Stewart's unravelling has held us horrified until then on its own. In the two hours plus of modern thrillers you can nip out for a chippy tea with little diminution of understanding or appreciation. This film is okay but the threat of a sequel begs the question, why bother?

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Mission Impossible 4 poster

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